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Serie A Preview! The Big Eight Download: Atalanta is Here to Have Fun, and You Should Too

The team from Bergamo was the little engine that could last season. They should be able to keep that up this season, and be a lot of fun in the process.

Atalanta was the surprise story of the 2018/19 Serie A season. The beginning of the season began tumultuously for the team from Bergamo. However, matchday nine saw a quick rise up the table that ultimately resulted in European qualification. Atalanta did not fall out of a European spot from matchday 20 on.

The tactical brilliance of their coach, Gasperini, allowed the team to perform better than their summer budget would have suggested. The aggressive press, along with incredible play from Papu Gomez and Duvan Zapata, allowed Atalanta to defeat more traditional Serie A giants. Atalanta was the only team in Italy to be able to consistently challenge Juventus. Genoa was the only team that fared better than Atalanta against Juventus during the Serie A season. However. Genoa’s second game came during that weird Juventus stumble. The ability of Atalanta to play Champions League level opponents in Serie A could help predict their future in Europe. Atalanta will be able to improve more on their current success next season and should be able to gain funds to defend their position.

The tactical plan for Atalanta is to overload opposition defenses with movement from wingbacks and central midfielders. Papu Gomez will drop deep and play a multitude of different central midfield positions so that the attack can progress. The wingback overloads also help change the dynamic and angle of the attack. With the passing abilities of Gomez and the overlapping wingbacks and midfielders, the direction of attack can change multiple times within the same attack. The midfielders for Gasperini’s tactics are crucial as well. Their movement into the box helps generate space for Zapata, and allow him to do what he does best, which is a score.

Atalanta will still be fantastic next year. It will be interesting to see how the team does next season, especially with the increase in games. Atalanta should continue to improve on their project and may be able to take another step towards silverware.

The Goalie

Berisha and Gollini split time in the goal this last season. As the season progressed, Gollini began to see more time. Over the course of the season, Gollini gave up .41 fewer goals per 90 minutes than Berisha.

Gollini vs Berisha 18/19

Goalie Games Played Serie A Goals Allowed Europa League Goals Allowed Coppa Italia Goals Allowed Per/90 Goals Allowed Total
Goalie Games Played Serie A Goals Allowed Europa League Goals Allowed Coppa Italia Goals Allowed Per/90 Goals Allowed Total
Gollini 27 20 1 2 0.85 23
Berisha 23 24 3 2 1.26 29

Gollini has fared better with his time in goal than Berisha. The two swapped who was starting and who was not towards the end of the season. Berisha lost his goal. Gollini now will be the main man in net for Atalanta during the coming season. His transformation into a serviceable goalie will be needed as Atalanta give up many counter-attacks.

To say that Atalanta played defense well last season would not be true. They were tied for the second-worst defensive team in the top 8 last season. Defensive improvements could help them increase their standing next season.

To understand the tweet below, Gollini saves a full goal worth of chances that Napoli should have scored. He in essence won them an extra two points.

The Defense

Palomino, Masiello, Djimisti, and Toloi will be the main men in defense this year. Mancini has been lost to Roma, so a new player will be needed to bring more depth to the position. The backline was a crucial ball playing aspect to Atalanta’s movement last season. Backs who can pass around a press will continue to be important. The defense needs to be able to play wide players and support in making forward movement possible. A poor passing center back will greatly hurt the forward ability of Atalanta.

The other major need is a defenseman who can track on counter-attacks. Positioning and movement on these counter attacks was an issue throughout last season. Because of the activation of each midfielder and wingback in the attacking third, the team can be vulnerable in defensive transition. Centerbacks that posses the ability to transition or provide cover for retreating wingbacks is crucial. Gosens, Hateboer, Castagne, and on occasion Reca will all play a role in coverage. If these players are late to cover a counter-attack then the defense will be able to be spread and allow more dangerous shots. Against Champions League level opponents, Atalanta may struggle with coverage.

The Midfield

The structure of the midfield is very offensive. While Atalanta plays two deeper lying central midfielders, they also have them activate a lot in attack. During a breakout, a midfielder, Gomez, Hateboer, De Roon, or Freuler, will drop to be another passing option for a center back. The wingbacks will begin to venture up the field and become passing options closer to the byline. After this, the play would generally turn into a very quick rotation of the three midfielders. As the ball is being played into the box, midfielders are meant to make attacking runs. This pulls defenses and creates more space for Duvan Zapata. The additional movement by the midfielders makes it difficult for defenses to mark.

Their movement, especially Papu Gomez’s, helps generate space for a striker or either of the wingbacks. Gomez is also such a skilled passer that he will be able to create space anywhere on the field. His role is really the generation of ideas in the attacking third. He will drop anywhere in the field to orchestrate the offense. His game is more of an advanced playmaker who drops deep to receive the ball. Teams can slow his effect on the game by almost man-marking him when he receives passes. Doing so can force Atalanta more into a game of crosses. Teams with talented center backs in the air; Inter, Juventus, Napoli, will use this game plan against them.

The problem with this midfield set up is that midfielders and wingbacks can get caught upfield. The defense usually retains its shape and distance, but coverage becomes an issue if balls into the box are dealt with easily. Committing so many men forward usually has a downside, however, the Atalanta system extenuates this issue. So much of Atalanta’s defense comes from the most aggressive press in Italy. Games are usually determined by how well the Atalanta attackers can prevent passes out of the back from opposing defenses. If they suffocate the other team, then Atalanta will score, and score a lot.

The Attack

Duvan Zapata is very good. Duvan Zapata will score like it is going out of style. He is really a joy to watch and one of the smarter strikers in Italy. He reads defenses impressively and can beat a center back. He makes more burst style movement and finishes with the best strikers. His most important attribute as an attacker is how he prepares for mistakes by the players guarding him. If a center-back is going to make a mistake, then Duvan will be there to score. He is slightly opportunistic; however, he does not miss when given the opportunity to score. Duvan is also not the type of poacher who will not help create space for his other teammates. He draws coverage and can pull players away from him. He generated the second most amount of goals out of any player this season. 7 assists are an impressive haul from a poacher style striker. He can keep scoring and generating space for his teammates.

Illicic, Barrow, and Muriel will be his main supporting cast next season. These all bring different aspects to an attack. They will all play more of a support striker role. Illicic is the best of the three and will contribute the most goals of all of them. He scored 12 last season and had 7 assists. He is impressive with his passing and his movement. Barrow will develop more into a better support striker and provide help with a quick movement. Muriel started his career at Fiorentina very strong, but then did not score in eleven games to end the season. It seems unlikely that he is anything more than a backup. He will be played as such.

Papu Gomez will help deliver passes and crosses into the box for these attackers. He also brings a strong freekick to the attack. Having a player of his caliber to help spread the play across the attacking third is a luxury.

The Prediction

Atalanta had the best attack in Italy last season and while they will most likely have some regression next season, they should still be at the top of the league. The team is set up for future success and has the added benefit of money from the Champions League. Atalanta’s main concern is that depth may become an issue for the backline. There is a lack of skill with the defense that could be exposed. Now the tactical ability of Gasperini may be able to overcome this. Some quick movement, very strong counter-attacking teams, like Liverpool and PSG, will be able to expose them. However, in the league, they will be able to defeat lesser opponents and compete with the more storied teams again.

I would expect Atalanta to finish anywhere from 3rd to 5th next season. There is no reason to think that they cannot recreate their success again. If they play in the Champions League again next season, then expect Atalanta to create even more structure into becoming one of the elite clubs in Italy. I hope that Atalanta does this because they were really one of the most fun teams in Italy last season. Hopefully, some silverware is in their future.